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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Live: Lots of lights, little substance from alt-J and Tycho

Posted by on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 2:38 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GABRIEL GREEN LOW
  • Photo by Gabriel Green Low
Alt-J, Tycho
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Friday, April 3, 2015

The surest sign of spring in the Triangle might not be a light coat of pollen or exposed shoulders and bare knees or the first warm-weather day. And it’s not when the breeze goes from lion to lamb. The definitive signal is when all of those factors commingle for one outdoor concert. That’s when people leave their jackets at home and smile at each other, happy to be breathing in spring air at last.

Such was the case Friday night in Raleigh (and in Carrboro, too, it seems) when Red Hat Ampitheater opened its doors for the first time this season to host alt-J’s debut Raleigh show. A friendly atmosphere surrounded the gig. A police man gently warned a woman who leaned to close toward incoming traffic on McDowell Street. A group of young women celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday engaged everyone around them in conversation. Folks waiting to buy concessions commiserated about $10 tallboys and the presence of a Taco Bell food truck. It was a pleasant night, graced by an almost-full moon. 

For better and for worse, alt-J and opener Tycho fit right into the atmosphere. Both sets were polite, so much so that Tycho seemed content not to bother anyone in the audience. The instrumental electronic musings never reached volumes loud or fast enough to pull attention away from Instagrams of the Raleigh Convention Center's Shimmer Wall as the day light faded. To be fair, when Tycho began at 8 p.m, people were still filing in and shaking off school and work. But Tycho seemed solemn, saying a few words of thanks to the audience and to alt-J and otherwise standing still and playing. In the context of a playlist labeled “Intense Studying,” Tycho’s music works well, with lovely tones unfurling beneath a pair of headphones. On Friday, those nuances were engulfed by the amphitheater, drowned in Yuengling.

Alt-J fared better: Voices and arms rose around me as the band took the stage. They toyed with their fans’ anticipation by starting with a slow build before soon kicking on the lights. Four high-definition strips of screen backed the band, while a full overhead rig—seven strips of six squares each, holding 36 bulbs for a total of 1,512 lights—beamed down on them. It was a playground of pixelated patterns and changing colors. The screens offered images of shifting textures, blocked patterns and, at one point, doves being released.

While the light show stole my attention, alt-J, like Tycho before them, did little to capture it. The few times alt-J shook the crowd awake—and this was obvious because the number of phones taking pictures went from a handful to most everyone—came when they played hits like “Tessellate” and “Matilda” during the main set and "Breezeblocks” in the encore. 

But for most of the show, they offered mere mid-tempo pleasers. Their music seemed appropriate for whatever folks were doing at the moment—dancing, bobbing their heads, sitting down, embracing. It was sound you could move to, but not sound that could necessarily move you. It was a pleasant start to the outdoor concert season, at least, if not a remarkable one.    

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